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What are allergies and how do they affect cats?

One of the most common conditions affecting cats is allergy. An allergy occurs when the cat's immune system "over reacts" to foreign substances called allergens or antigens. Allergens and antigens are simply foreign proteins that the body's immune system tries to remove. These over reactions are manifested in one of three ways:

1.  The most common manifestation is itching of the skin, either localized in one area or a generalized reaction all over the cat's body.

2.  Another manifestation involves the respiratory system and may result in coughing, sneezing, and wheezing. Sometimes, there may be an associated nasal or ocular (eye) discharge.

3.  The third manifestation involves the digestive system, resulting in vomiting, flatulence or diarrhea.


How many types of allergies are there?

There are four common types of allergies in the cat: contact, flea, food, and inhalant. Each has common clinical signs and unique characteristics.


What is Contact Allergy and how is it treated?

Contact allergies are the least common of the four types of allergies in cats.


"They result in a local reaction on the skin from contact with an offensive (allergic) substance."


They result in a local reaction on the skin from contact with an offensive (allergic) substance. Examples of contact allergy include reactions to shampoos, flea collars or to types of bedding, such as wool. If the cat is allergic to such substances, there will be skin irritation and itching at the points of contact. Removal of the contact irritant solves the problem. However, identifying the allergen can be challenging in many cases.


What is Flea Allergy and how is it treated?

Flea allergy is the most common allergy in cats.


"The flea allergic cat has a severe, itch-producing reaction when the flea's saliva is deposited in the skin."


A normal cat experiences only minor skin irritation at the site of the bite in response to fleabites. The flea allergic cat, on the other hand, has a severe, itch-producing reaction when the flea's saliva is deposited in the skin. Just one bite causes such intense itching that the cat may severely scratch or chew itself, leading to the removal of large amounts of hair. There will often be open sores or scabs on the skin, resulting in a secondary bacterial skin infection (pyoderma). The area most commonly involved is over the rump or base of the tail. In addition, the cat may have numerous small scabs around the head and neck. These scabs are  often referred to as miliary dermatitis, a term that was coined because the scabs look like millet seeds.


The most important treatment for flea allergy is to eliminate all fleas. Therefore, strict flea control is the cornerstone of successful treatment. Unfortunately, this may be challenging in warm and humid climates, where a new population of fleas can hatch out every fourteen to twenty-one days. Topically applied monthly flea products may kill fleas before they have a chance to bite your cat. When strict flea control is not possible, injections of corticosteroids, also referred to as "cortisone" or "steroid shots", can be used to block the allergic reaction and give immediate relief. This is often a necessary part of with the initial treatment flea allergies. Fortunately, cats appear relatively more resistant to the negative side effects of steroids than other mammalian species. If a secondary bacterial skin infection occurs from the flea allergy dermatitis, appropriate antibiotics must be used, generally for two to four weeks.



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